Despite falling rates of COVID-19 cases, seeking in-person healthcare is still a concern for many people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 41% of U.S. adults had delayed or avoided medical care because of concerns about COVID-19. Nationally, emergency department visits declined from 2.1 million emergency department visits per week during the early COVID-19 pandemic, to 1.2 million after shelter-in-place orders went into effect. Children had more than a 70% reduction in emergency department visits. Additionally, emergency departments saw a 36% reduction in diagnoses classified as emergent, such as stroke and acute coronary syndrome (ACS).
“These statistics point to an alarming trend,” said Dr. Maureen Bell, emergency department medical director for Vituity and chair of emergency medicine at Howard University College of Medicine. “As an emergency department physician, I understand patient concerns. However, it’s critical for everyone to seek the care they need when they need it — for COVID-19 related symptoms or anything else. Hospitals, urgent care facilities and outpatient clinics are taking extra safety precautions to keep patients and staff safe from COVID-19 transmission.”
Signs and symptoms that require immediate action
Although we are in the midst of a pandemic, medical emergencies and chronic conditions remain existent and critical. Emergent and routine care should still be a priority. Bell explains that in many emergency situations, minutes — even seconds — matter. By delaying care, your condition can worsen and have long-term impacts. In worst-case scenarios, delaying care may cause death.
“I have seen a number of patients with strokes and myocardial infarctions (heart attacks) delay coming to the emergency department out of fear of COVID-19, and as a result, they end up with worse outcomes because we’ve lost that valuable time for available interventions,” she said. “Just last week, I had a patient come in after experiencing right-side weakness for three days. Imaging confirmed this patient had a stroke, and due to the delayed presentation missed the window for optimal intervention. This delay in seeking care will unfortunately result in a long-lasting disability.”
Bell, and the health care experts at Vituity, recommend seeking medical care as soon as possible if you’re experiencing any of the following:
- Chest pain or discomfort in the upper body
- Head injuries
- Weakness or drooping on one side of the body
- Fainting or ongoing dizziness
- Severe abdominal pain
- Difficulty breathing, wheezing or ongoing shortness of breath
- Severe headache
- Paralysis or significant weakness
- Significant or uncontrolled bleeding
- Sudden numbness
- Major trauma such as a bad car accident, fall or wound
- Irregular heartbeat
- Compound fractures (bone that protrudes through the skin)
- Severe allergic reactions
If you’re unsure if you require emergency care, call your doctor right away. If you need immediate medical assistance, call 911 for emergencies.
“I want everyone to know that emergency departments and urgent care centers across the country are prepared to help keep everyone safe,” said Bell. “Your health and safety is our top priority so if you or a loved one need care, please seek it.”